Santa Clara’s mayor has tried to soften the tenor of a letter she wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom — without Council knowledge — imploring him to expedite a decision on whether the biggest development in California history is subject to prevailing wage law.
Tuesday night, Mayor Lisa Gillmor reframed her intent in writing a letter to the governor that would save billionaire developer Related — a major donor to her reelection campaign — untold money.
The item returned to Council in light of the letter becoming public last month, with many council members chagrined that their names appeared on it despite having no knowledge of its contents.
“I haven’t done anything different than any mayor has done in the past,” Gillmor said. “Everything I do is passed by the City Attorney’s office and City Manager’s office.”
Gillmor said the letter, sent on City letterhead, was simply to “get a decision, pure and simple” from the Dept. of Industrial Relations on whether the project is a public work, adding that it was “nothing nefarious, nothing underhanded.”
Council Member Anthony Becker, Gillmor’s opponent in the upcoming mayoral race, raised the issue, leading Gillmor to call the topic “political.”
While Gillmor’s letter does seek a speedy decision out of fear of delay, it also opines that “[…] nothing in the rent structure suggests this project is a public work that would be subject to California’s Prevailing Wage Law.”
City Attorney Steve Ngo told the Council that sending the letter is not out of step with the mayor’s authority to advocate for City positions provided they do not contradict the will of the Council.
Council Member Kevin Park disagreed with the city attorney.
“There is no record of Council contradictory will, because we were never told about this issue,” Park said. “We were not apprised of anything that was sent out and making a request versus making a statement about City position are two different things. They are very different things. This was not a City position; it was a request.”
Many council members questioned how many other letters their names appear on without their knowledge. Park said if such behavior is going to continue, he prefers his name be removed from City letterhead.
Eight union contractors wrote the Council letters in support of the project, most of which focused on how many union jobs the $9 billion project will create and how they will provide apprenticeship opportunities for minorities and women.
Many public comments focused on the merits of the development, losing sight of the issue at hand. But not everybody was as ready to overlook the letter simply because they believe the Related project benefits Santa Clara.
“The interest of the residents — as far as working-class residents of Santa Clara — are not being represented in this situation,” said Gary Ferraris. “Instead, what is being represented is a desire to line the pockets of very rich developers and contractors.”
Old guard Council gadfly Deborah Bress shared Park’s sentiments.
“It is not the City’s position to waive the prevailing wage provision,” she said.
Steve Eimer, a spokesperson for Related, employed a bit of doublespeak, saying Related is not “seeking exemption from prevailing wage law” but also noted that the 240-acre development has been “wrongfully classified” as a public works project.
While Gillmor maintained that she supports prevailing wage law, she also said that if she had to bring every decision about what to support to the Council “we would never be able to advocate for anything.”
The Council opted to refer the item to its Governance Committee to set a policy on how such letters are communicated to the Council. The motion passed 6-1 with Council Member Kathy Watanabe voting “no.”
By consensus, the Council also directed the City Manager to look into getting the committee underway again, as a lack of money brought on by the pandemic has stalled all City committees.
City To Explain 49ers Settlement Agreement…Eventually
The Council also approved two public petitions regarding a settlement agreement with the Forty Niners Stadium Management Company (ManCo) in August.
Former Council Member Teresa O’Neill brought the first petition which sought to have the Council discuss and explain the terms of the settlement agreement. She said she is disappointed the City has not released or explained the 49ers settlement agreement.
“You are letting [ManCo] control the message,” O’Neill said.
Vice Mayor Suds Jain also sought a similar explanation and a briefing on the sources of revenue for the Stadium Authority and the status of the loans for Levi’s Stadium are being paid.
Watanabe said pushing the item out is simply an effort to delay discussing the settlement until after the election.
“This is nothing more than political theater,” said Watanabe.
Becker too called the attempt to add the item to a future agenda “political.”
Due to two other pending disputes about police and buffet costs, Ngo cautioned the Council about getting into specifics about legal advice or closed session matters regarding the 49ers settlement agreement. Otherwise, he said council members should feel free to give perspective on their decision and reasoning on the settlement.
The Council lumped the two items together but delayed discussing the item, at the behest of Becker, until after the City settles the pending litigation on the buffet and police costs. A copy of the 49ers settlement agreement is available to the public in the City Clerk’s office.
Consent Calendar Spending
- A $1.8 million contract with Ray’s Electric, Inc. for improvements to crosswalks.
- $17 million for design services for Silicon Valley Power’s system capacity expansion planning with Advisian Worley Group, TRC Solutions, Inc., Leidos Engineering, LLC, Flynn Resource Consultants, Inc., EN Engineering LLC and for plan implementation services with 1898 & Co., TRC Solutions, Inc., Electrical Consultants, Inc., AECOM Technical Services, Inc. and Stantec Consulting Services Inc.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 18 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.